DEPRESSION: Don’t let mental illness hold you back, Surrey mom urges youth

Cortlin Gilmer says Mood Disorder Association of B.C.'s new province-wide campaign to help youth talk about depression is much needed

It is estimated that 10 to 20 per cent of youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder in Canada.

SURREY — Depression may have caused its fair share of personal conflicts throughout Cortlin Gilmer’s life but the toughest fight is the one she faces every day.

“I will be battling my brain for the rest of my life,” said the 20-year-old Surrey woman.

“My brain will always disagree with me.”

Gilmer is a single mom who lives in Guildford. She has lived with major depressive disorder for most of her young life, first showing symptoms when she was only nine.

Recognizing there are young people like Gilmer throughout B.C., the Mood Disorder Association of British Columbia (MDABC) is launching a new province-wide depression awareness campaign on Friday (Oct. 14).

As part of the “What Helps, What Hurts” campaign, a team of MDABC staff and volunteers will hit the streets to distribute about 2,000 pocket guides aimed to help reduce the stigma around talking openly about mood and depression among young adults.

Click here for more information on the MDABC and its campaign.

Gilmer says awareness is vital, not only for people with mental illnesses like depression, but for friends and family members around them.

“We have to talk about it,” she said. “That’s the only way. It’s not talked about and that’s where it goes wrong.”

And she says education is also important, especially in light of the negative stigma and many misperceptions about depression.

For example, while people might hear the word depression and equate it to sadness, Gilmer says for her, there was a lot more to it than simply being sad.

“When I was young, my anger was out of control,” she said. “I was constantly mad at everybody, like the world was out to get me… It was hard to stay in school.”

Because she was so young, Gilmer says her mood swings could have easily been blamed on puberty, which was just around the corner (see sidebar). But because depression runs in her family, Gilmer says her parents were “very aware” of signs to look out for. She started taking anti-depressants at about 10 years old but when she was 12 or 13, she realized something was very wrong.

“I knew I needed help,” she said. “And that’s the part that’s really hard for kids – to come out and admit that they need the help.”

Although she admits there are more bad days than good, Gilmer says these days, she has learned to manage depression more effectively, with help from counsellors, psychiatrists and the right medication.

“It’s a mental disorder and it took a lot of years of my life from me, at a young age,” she said. “But you can’t let it hold you back.

“Every day is a new day. You can’t give up.”

Polly Guetta from Mood Disorders Association of B.C. says this week’s campaign is much needed.

“People aren’t educated about mental health,” Guetta said, adding there is a tendency to place blame when depression hits.

“Especially for men, where the trend is ‘boys don’t cry, so tough it out.’ Those emotions just keep getting pushed down.”

MDABC executive director Martin Addison said with depression affecting one in eight Canadians in their lifetime, and with 70 per cent of first episodes happening in adolescence and early adulthood, awareness is key.

“It’s essential that we as a community learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression early and that we encourage people to get the help they need.”

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What to watch for:

Recognizing depression in young people can be tough because they experience so many changes. You may wonder what is “normal” and what might be a problem. However, you may still notice the following changes:

Changes in feelings: May show signs of being unhappy, worried, guilty, angry, fearful, helpless, hopeless, lonely, or rejected.

Changes in health: May start to complain of headaches or general aches and pains that you can’t explain. They may feel tired all the time or have problems eating or sleeping. May unexpectedly gain or lose weight.

Changes in thinking:

May say things that indicate low self-esteem, self-dislike or self-blame – for example, they may only talk about themself negatively. They may have a hard time concentrating.

Changes in behaviour: Your child might withdraw from others, cry easily, or show less interest in sports, games, or other fun activities that they normally enjoy. They might over-react and have sudden outbursts of anger or tears over small incidents.

Source: Canadian Mental Health Association

beau.simpson@thenownewspaper.com

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